Susan Testoff's son Aaron has been sent home three times from his day care center in Linthicum for head and chest colds and conjunctivitis.
When the 5-month-old boy had the measles last week, Mrs. Testoff said, neither she nor her husband could take time off from their jobs and Aaron could not go to his day care center.
Instead, he went to Harbor Hospital Center's center for sick children in Baltimore for a three-day stay.
"The center has been a good option for us where our child has gotten good care and we can save our leave," said Mrs. Testoff. "It's a nice alternative."
Finding care for sick children that is close to office and home is complicated and difficult for single parents and two-career couples.
"When a parent has to put the importance of their job before the
health of their child and other children, it really puts the parent and the child care provider in an awkward situation," said Debbie Moore, president of the Anne Arundel County Child Care Association.
"Parents can't jeopardize their jobs by taking time off," she said. "And child care providers can't jeopardize the health of other children."
Department of Human Resources regulations prohibit day care centers and child care providers from taking in sick children, said Jackie Bennett, regional manager of the state's Child Care Administration. Each child care provider decides, based on the child's symptoms, whether the child's illness is communicable, Ms. Bennett said.
Harbor Hospital's 7-year-old day care program for sick children has been used by parents throughout the area, including the Eastern Shore, said Lisa Bender, who directs the service. About 1,780 children have attended the center.
The center, which is open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., accepts up to nine children, from 6 weeks old to 16 years old. The program costs $4 an hour. Meals and drinks are provided for an additional $3. Snacks are free.
Since the hospital's program is not registered as a child care center, the children are considered outpatients during their brief stays.
In the past five years, several child care centers have asked about starting day care centers for sick children, but none has done so, said Remy Whaley, an Anne Arundel County child care coordinator.
"They basically fade into the woodwork because of the regulations required to establish a center for sick children and because there is no guarantee on the number of children you will have," Ms. Whaley said. "There are no guarantees that you will generate income."
Harbor Hospital loses $30,000 to $40,000 a year on its program, said Chad Dillard, the hospital's public relations director.
Nancy Ostrosky, 37, of Glen Burnie said she has taken her 12-year-old daughter, Katie, who has severe asthma, to the center about 15 times in the past two years.
"My professors didn't want to hear about my problems with sick children," said Mrs. Ostrosky, who recently received a degree in early childhood education. "I knew she was well cared for at the center, and the peace of mind I had was well worth any costs."
The center must be notified one to two hours before the service is required. Organizers ask parents to notify them the night before if possible. Parents must provide a brief medical history of the child and immunization records.
Parents may visit or call their child any time during the child's stay at the hospital. Children are released only to parents, guardians or people authorized in writing by the parents.
For information on the center, call 347-3243.